Speed 2's a test of patience. Obviously, it's a bigger budget rehash of the "cop + Sandy + quick-moving vehicle + cackly villain" formula that worked so damn well for the first outing. So when a wild-eyed Willem Dafoe hacks his way into a cruise liner's computer system and unscrews the heads of his golf clubs to reveal explosive detonators, you're not that surprised - a frantic, action-packed ride is clearly about to begin. There's a cosy familiarity to everything: we've got our Sandra, a mad dog terrorist wacko, a heroic SWAT bloke (Jason Patric's a Keanu clone from the first pic - - Sandy obviously has a thing for buzz cuts), and the normal disaster movie gaggle of passengers and crew. The new tack comes with the wet location: the first outing made us ignore the utter silliness of its plotting by keeping the story simple and fast-moving. But by switching from runaway bus to runaway ship - - it can't change course or stop and no-one can get off - - Speed 2 stretches our credulity to the max. It's well-constructed, but can even the talented De Bont blind us to his set-up's innate cheesiness?
The answer is, "up to a point". Speed 2 isn't a bad film, but great and exciting are hardly words you'd choose to describe it. For a start, it takes a while to get going. Sure, De Bont lays his action cards on the table two minutes in with a high-octane motorbike chase, but then we get 20 minutes establishing the Patric/Bullock relationship, showing us the cruise ship (The Seaborne Legend) and introducing the designated screamers for the voyage - two fatties, some honeymooners, the ship's photographer, a rich couple with a blind daughter and so on.
Then there's computer whizz Dafoe, who designed the software that controls the liner's major systems. The cruise firm fired him after it discovered working too close to computers had slowly given him copper poisoning - - implausible, to say the least, but Dafoe runs with it, prolonging his life by slapping leeches onto his chest (they apparently suck the copper from his blood). Obsessed with revenge, he hacks into the ship's computer, destroys the key systems with his golfball bombs and then cavorts about the ship with a loopy gusto that has to be seen to be believed.
When all hell finally does break out, Patric strides confidently into the tough ass cop role, taking all the expected action man stuff on his shoulders - fighting, shooting, leaping, underwater swimming. But the charm-free Patric can only ever amount to Dirty Vest Hero Lite, with none of the wise-cracking charisma of a Bruce Willis, while his good deeds leave Bullock more or less nowhere. Her Annie is, for most of the film, surprisingly agitated, helpless and wet - - excellent at delivering her flat one-liners (""relationships based on extreme circumstances never work out"") yet never given the chance to do anything. Thus Speed 2 echoes its predecessor too closely: then Reeves got to do all the good stuff, and this time round it's much the same - Bullock has to herd passengers about like a shepherdess and coo ""be careful"" when Patric goes off on some new, foolhardy, ship-slowing stunt, when we all expected her to become an action star à la Sarah Connor this time round. Instead she only ever amounts to a tranquil face in stormy waters - - a real missed opportunity.
Looked at from another angle, Speed 2 is a very clever film. It's has limited dialogue, a simple plot, loads of running around and OTT pyrotechnics that can be enjoyed by anyone - - the perfect global film. The Bullock/Patric combo and Love Boat setting ensure it's a fine date movie to boot. Surprisingly, where it lets itself down is as an action piece. It's not that the effects and the stunts are found wanting - Patric gets dragged underneath the ship, attempting to snag the propeller with a rope; battles in a flooding engine room to rescue the little blind girl; the ship strikes an oil tanker in a shower of sparks - - but Speed 2 is such a relentless bang bang ride that it fails to reach any proper crescendo.
In part it's because the audience can never believe what's happening, and so feel emotionally detached from any of these ship-themed stunts, however spectacular. And De Bont fails, the first 20 minutes aside, to really introduce us to any of the characters (it's impossible to give a toss about Patric, Bullock or any of the other passengers - crash the ship, see if we care). Comparisons can be drawn with Twister, De Bont's summer offering last year, which was an equally spectacular yet empty work. He's never been able to see eye-to-eye with complex storylines, and then, as now, the movie was nothing so much as a handy clothes line on which to hang a series of increasingly belief-defying and over-the-top action sequences.
The problem is, stunts aside, there's little to cheer for. Dafoe pinches some jewellery to justify his ridiculous hijacking, and does his utmost to move things along with his pop-eyed cackling, but the lack of a good storyline and bland good guys means it flows over you, stunt after stunt, quip after quip. As a rollercoaster, Speed 2 pulls you to the summit and then launches you down a gentle incline. Slowly. No sudden turns or corkscrew twists here, merely an unexciting coast downhill.